By Niti Parekh
It’s a new city, a new group of friends, a new social setting, and science says that entering a new environment causes physiological tension that cannot be explained. People sometimes feel this as exhilaration or an adrenaline rush, and other times as anxiety and nervousness. This tension grows, even as one gets accustomed to the unusual independence, the increase in stress levels, and the unfamiliar social climate that they’re in. Additionally, the unlimited cookie counters, free ice creams, packets of chips and desserts with every meal, and the enormous portion sizes that come with the mandatory meal plans all add up. Together, these factors lead to the infamous “Freshman 15.”
“Freshman 15” is an expression used by university students to describe the average weight gained, said to be 15 pounds, during a student’s freshman year. Many believe this is due to several factors such as alcohol abuse, stress eating, and lack of exercise– an unhealthy lifestyle. As casual as the expression might be, the problem is not. To many, the “Freshman 15” syndrome is much more than just weight gain. Annie Wang, a sophomore studying BPE in London said, “I knew someone who gained a lot of weight in his freshman year because he would eat out a lot and not control portion sizes in the dining hall, and everyone in his neighborhood started noticing this, making him conscious of it, which eventually affected his confidence.”
No one can deny that the dining halls at NYU do a great job at offering a variety of options to suit every student’s needs. But a student may grab a free pizza pie because he had a rough day, rather than the salad which may not look as satisfying. A management student who gained 15 pounds her freshman year commented, “it was just the convenience… I could eat whenever and whatever I wanted and did not have to worry about money because it was already paid for, making it almost guilt-free.”
From a medical point of view, sudden weight gain has serious future implications. It could lead to Cushing’s syndrome, hypothyroidism, and hormonal imbalances, in women especially. It could also change the way people perceive themselves. “Looking at the mirror in the morning would disgust me and still haunts me to this very day even though I lost the weight,” said one Stern senior who wished to be kept anonymous.
As a community, what can Stern do to improve the lifestyle of its hard-working students? Some starting points could be replacing Insomnia cookies or gigantic slices of pizza with healthier food options at events, or organize events that involve physical activity. The Stern and broader NYU communities should promote the notion of not turning to food for comfort, but to exercising and recreation, in hope that one day a freshman coming out of her class after a dreadful midterm does not only look forward to Waffle Wednesday to lighten her day, but also her evening swim and walk in the park with her friends.